Thursday, June 26, 2008

Study: Attitude determines rural schools' success

A study conducted by a University of Oklahoma researcher indicates that community involvement and the school's commitment to student excellence are determining factors in whether a rural school is high- or low-achieving.

Perri Applegate, recently investigated the differences between a high-achieving and low-achieving rural high school. Her study focused on high-poverty schools in which at least 51 percent of the population is eligible for free or reduced lunch, a press release from EurekAlert said. "Applegate compared the scores on Oklahoma's Academic Performance index, the state's annual school report of 367 Oklahoma high schools ranging from large, urban to small, rural schools. She found no significant difference in achievement of rural schools and those in other settings." Click here to read the entire press release.

"In small-town America, the school and the community are dependent upon each other for success," Applegate said. Schools tend to be the focal point of rural communities and serve as a gathering place and, at times, social services. Students have access to increased resources and support outside of their schools in urban areas. "Rural schools in the study listed the same factors as impacting student achievement; poverty, parental support, community, extracurricular activities and a caring school culture," Applegate said. "The difference between a high- or low-achieving rural school was how they--both the school and the community--met those challenges."

Educators at high-achieving schools embraced their role of being a rural teacher and typically had multiple responsibilities and were creative with necessary resources. These schools had shared, supportive leadership, did not believe students will fail because they attend rural schools, and authorized stakeholders to take leadership roles. High-achieving schools also reinforced the school-community bond and benefited from parents and community members supporting teachers. Low-achieving schools felt being a rural school deterred student success, and school administration and the community were burdened by the lack of resources. This attitude mirrored the educational approach of the school and reduced students' likelihood to attend college. "According to Applegate, these findings have serious implications beyond education," the EurekAlert press release said. "Research shows that schools can save communities. The success of one can determine the success or failure of the other."

"We can't assume that student success in all schools, large and small, is impacted by the same issues," Applegate said. "So the question becomes how do we help schools in their environment become successful?" To read Applegate's report, click here.

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